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Cambodia 10 November 2005

Radio station manager still in prison after one month as government gets tough with media

Reporters Without Borders today condemned the continuing detention of Mam Sonando, the manager of radio Sombok Khmum (Beehive FM 105), who is still being held in Prey Sar prison, near Phnom Penh, one month after his arrest. A court has refused to free him on bail and the government is about to bring an additional charge against him of broadcasting false information.

“By arresting Mam Sonando, the Cambodian government is trying to discourage journalists from covering the sensitive issue of territorial concessions to Vietnam,” the press freedom organisation said. “Prime Minister Hun Sen has no right to invoke national security in order to imprison journalists and NGO activists and it is increasingly clear that the authorities are ready to sacrifice press freedom in order to hold on to power and avoid all criticism.”

Reporters Without Borders has analysed the 39-minute programme on the border issue which Mam Sonando broadcast on 20 September and it is very clear that he was just doing his job as a journalist when he interviewed Sean Pengse, the head of the Paris-based Cambodia Borders Committee, which opposes ceding the islands of Phu Quoc and Krachakses to Vietnam.

In the interview, Mam Sonando asked Sean Pengse to explain the border treaties between Cambodia and Vietnam. He did at one point say he agreed with his interviewee, but that was in reference to international indifference on the issue.

At no point did Mam Sonando directly attack Prime Minister Hun Sen. On the contrary, he defended him twice. He said for example: “I think you are putting all the responsibility for the problem on Hun Sen. But he is in the executive and the national assembly comes first.”

Reporters Without Borders intends to raise the issue of his arrest and the current threats against Cambodian journalists with the International Organisation of Francophone Nations (OIF). The UN special representative for Cambodia already requested his release on 20 October.

Judge Saly Theara refused to release Mam Sonando on bail on 3 November 2005. At the same time, the prime minister’s lawyer announced that a charge of disseminating false information would be added to the charges of defamation and inciting crime. Mam Sonando faces a year in prison.

Cambodian Teachers Association president Rong Chhun faces the same sentences after being arrested for signing a press release on the border issue.

Reporters Without Borders is also very worried about the threat of arrest hanging over Voice of America senior stringer Sok Pov Khemara and Ath Bunny, also known as Phan Sophat, a correspondent for Radio Free Asia. They preferred to flee to Thailand at the end of October even though the authorities told them there was no plan to detain them.

Man Sonando was arrested at his home on 11 October, 20 days after broadcasting the interview with Sean Pengse. The prime minister threatened to prosecute all those “who dare to say I cut off territory to give to someone else.” Sombok Khmum is one of the few privately-owned radio stations to carry independent news. It also retransmits Radio Free Asia and Voice of America programming.

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